"The Associated Press" February 16, 2006
By Barry Wilner

Almost all Evgeni Plushenko had to do was stay on his feet. That's more than his rivals could manage. The three-time world champion took few chances, yet still earned another personal best Thursday night to grab the fifth straight Olympic title for a Russian/Soviet man.

He pretty much owned it when he showed up in Turin, and the rest of the field couldn't come close to measuring up.

"It was my dream when I was 4," he said. "I saw a competition and said to my mum, "I have to be there.' I said that I wanted to be an Olympic champion. Now I have all the titles and I am really very happy," he said.

Plushenko said he plans to stick around for the 2010 Games - "I'll be only 27. It's a good age for a skater". That can't make the others happy, especially after they crashed and burned in the free skate.

"There are years between Plushenko and everybody else," said U.S. champion Johnny Weir, who plunged from second after the short program to fifth overall.

World champion Stephane Lambiel of Switzerland won silver and Jeff Buttle of Canada got bronze, although both struggled.

Weir, who skated a cautious program filled with errors, stormed out of the rink when his mediocre marks were shown.

"I missed the bus. They changed the schedule," Weir said. "It was every 10 minutes. Today it was every half-hour. I was late getting here and never caught up. I never felt comfortable in this building. I didn't feel my inner peace. I didn't feel my aura. Inside I was black."

Plushenko had no such dark moments, although he skated slowly and without any sign of emotion. He still was far too good for the rest of the field, finishing with a score of 167.67 points in the free skate and 258.33 overall - an incredible 27.12 points in front of Lambiel.

All of his main rivals skated after him in the final group and, one by one, they fell short. He opened with a quadruple toe loop-triple toe-double loop combination, followed with a triple axel-double toe.

It was over right there.

Plushenko crossed himself twice at the end, then got a big hug and kiss on the cheek from longtime coach Alexei Mishin. Plushenko also kissed his wedding ring while awaiting his marks - appropriate for someone who skated to "The Godfather."

Plushenko even stuck around to watch Lambiel and Weir. The Russian had nothing to worry about, easily adding gold to the silver he won four years ago in Salt Lake City.

Russian flags waved throughout the arena as Plushenko received his medal, smiling widely. But he was stoic on the podium while Lambiel couldn't stop crying during the Russian national anthem. He is the only Swiss man to win an Olympic figure skating medal.

Plushenko's program wasn't nearly as memorable those that produced gold for Victor Petrenko, Alexei Urmanov, Ilia Kulik and Alexei Yagudin in the Russian/Soviet streak. But it gave his country both figure skating gold medals so far - Tatiana Totmianina and Maxim Marinin won the pairs - and Russia is favored in women and dance.

No country has swept the golds at an Olympics.

Lambiel and Buttle were more medals survivors than anything, and Weir was particularly uninspired.

"I was off, it was an off night," said the 21-year-old Weir. "But I will be back in four years, hopefully for a medal."

Weir two-footed a triple axel, had a shaky landing on a triple lutz, did a sloppy triple flip and spun as if he didn't really want to turn. With only one combination jump, his medal chances flew away and he ended up sixth in the free skate.

That allowed Lysacek to soar past him, from 10th to fourth.

It took 13 skaters for the first clean program, and it was Lysacek's magnificent moment. The runner-up to Weir at nationals when Lysacek won the free skate, he packed his "Carmen" routine with emotion and motion - hitting all eight of his triple jumps, three in combinations, and spinning precisely and quickly.

Amazing considering he has a stomach flu and was bedridden Wednesday.

The 20-year-old Lysacek covered his face with his hand at the finish, then fell to one knee with the crowd on its feet. His personal best of 152.58 was third in the free skate and a terrific way to make up for a poor short program (10th).

"It's hard because I dreamed about the Olympics for upwards of a decade," he said, "and that dream didn't include getting sick with a stomach flu, getting stuck with IVs, having my veins collapse and falling in the short program. It became about something different ... courage."

Teammate Matt Savoie was seventh. Skating directly after Lysacek, Savoie simplified one combination and one jump, but his spins were superb and his choreography and edge quality were as good as any.

"There's still worlds, and I don't know what will happen after law school," Savoie said after a personal-best 137.52 in the long program. "If it were to end today, it'd be great."

Buttle moved up from sixth by finishing second in the free skate.

"Waiting before you skate is hard," he said, "but waiting afterward is hardest. I never would have thought that I would come back after the short program."

The other contenders in the final group skated poorly. France's Brian Joubert dropped from fourth to sixth overall, and Japan's Daisuke Takahashi slipped from fifth to ninth.



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